Guidance in the Home of Paella


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, July 04, 2004 was originally posted on July 13, 2004.

DAY 260:  Every great city can be characterized by its local cuisine.  Philadelphia, the birthplace of America, has the American classic Philly cheesesteak sandwich.  The chilled out vibe of the Florida Keys spawned the cool and relaxed Key Lime Pie.  And Valencia, Spain, a perfect fusion of things old and new, is the Home of Paella, the fusion of saffron-spiced rice with any mix of meats, vegetables and seafood.

Paella, the quintessential Spanish rice dish is just one of 500 rice dishes made in Valencia, but it is probably its most famous worldwide.  For our culinary pilgrimage to the Home of Paella, we wanted to find the best place to have it.  At the recommendation of Juan’s girlfriend, we ended up at La Pepica, a fairly famous eatery right on the beach frequented by celebrities old and new:  American writer Ernest Hemingway once dined there, as did newly-married King Philip VI and his new queen. 

We walked in through the back entrance like a couple of Goodfellas, passed the kitchen (picture above) of culinary masters and sat at a table outside for lunch, the biggest, most socially important meal of the day in Spanish culture, spent during a normal weekday siesta period between 2-5 p.m.  Juan perused the menu to look for one “typico” of the region.

“Which one do you want?” he asked.

“The best one,” I simply said.

We ordered the “standard” paella marinara with seafood which, unlike paella I’d had back in the States, had more fish than shellfish.  No matter, Le Pepica’s chefs figured out the recipe for the perfect fusion of spices, rice and seafood that made it all the worthwhile.  On the side we had puntillas, fried whole baby squids, another typical dish of the region.

A TAXI TOOK US FROM THE BEACH to the city center, right by the Valencia bullfighting arena, where a wannabe matador stood outside for all to see that he was on a hunger strike until the bullfighting association would permit him fight a bull.  Bullfighting is not just a sport in Spain, but an honorable and artful demonstration of man’s relationship with the bull.

“There are guys who jump the fence to fight the bulls to show they can fight,” Juan told me, playing city tour guide.  Meanwhile, Jack was still across the street we had just crossed, distracted by the hot Spanish blonde in stripper clothing posing as some roving reporter

The hot chick disappeared out of sight and so our city tour guided by Juan continued.  We walked the pedestrian malls to the main plaza, flanked by the classically-designed post office and city hall.  The architecture around us was a feast for the eyes; in fact, Let’s Go says it is “among the few places in Europe where ultra-modern styles are successfully blended with the traditional” — sort of like its paella.

Juan’s guidance only lasted so long when we got lost looking for the main cathedral — born and raised in Salamanca, he was only a Valencian for five years and had never really done the tourist thing.  Totally by chance we bumped into his sister Melina who showed us the way.  We wandered the in’s and out’s of the cathedral, which was constructed in Gothic, Roman and Baroque styles in different sections of the building.

Juan, part guide, part tourist himself, marveled at its grandeur.  “You think how could they do this, even today, and back then they didn’t have anything,” he said.

WALKING AROUND WITH JACK, down Valencia’s streets and through its plazas, meant it was time for a break, which I gladly welcomed.  Juan and Melina tooks us to Finnegan’s, an Irish pub frequented by Valencians, passing Irishmen and anyone else who enjoyed a beer after walking around the city.  Our walk continued after a round to the Jardin del Turin, a park built in a river bed where a river once flowed through the city.  After a flood, the river was rerouted around the city, but the bridges still remained.

BACK IN JUAN’S APARTMENT, our Valencian guide gave me guidance for our next destination:  the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, where Jack and I would arrive the following morning via overnight bus.  Juan hadn’t been to the famous bull festival in Pamplona, but to a smaller, similar one in Teurel.  He described to me his experience with a bull, when he ran away from one, only to be cornered to a 9-ft. fence.  He jumped to climb it, but didn’t quite clear it in time. 

“The bull lifted me three feet in the air…  Luckily I landed on the other side, right on my back.  It got all bruised but I was so full of adrenaline that I immediately checked down here,” he said, patting his crotch.  The bull’s horn didn’t pierce him; it went right between his legs fortunately, and with the flick of the head, sent Juan flying up in the air. 

I was going to Pamplona to run with the bulls, but now I was thinking otherwise.  As we departed Juan’s apartment to get to our bus (we left our big bags there), I greeted Juan a temporary farewell.  “See you Friday… maybe,” I joked.

Jack and I hopped on a bus for the seven-hour overnight ride northbound, away from the fusion of architecture and seafood.  I knew that if I survived Pamplona, Valencia’s paella was something definitely worth coming back to.

Next entry: To Run Or Not To Run

Previous entry: Progression to the Typical

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Comments for “Guidance in the Home of Paella”

  • ERIK - Beyoo on the blond reporter. Damn.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  03:21 PM

  • i don’t think katie couric or diane sawyer would be wearing that reporting the news…..nor would i wanna see that…well maybe katie couric and the ladies of WB11 morning news…beyo…

    WHEAT definitely would wanna see Barbara Walters….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  03:27 PM

  • wow that blonde chick is hot!  go spain!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  04:48 PM

  • You did very well trying to be that sculpture in the fountain!

    That town is amazing - the architecture is stunning. Nice. Thanks!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  05:21 PM

  • Don Pepe in Newark has the BEST PAELLA in NJ….try the Mariscada en Salsa Verde too….hmm..Yum!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  06:12 PM

  • LP - best paella in NJ….ummm ok…hahahah….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  06:20 PM

  • Bill—Its your favortie fountain!

    Plus, there are some decent crepes across the courtyard there.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  08:07 PM

  • How come I didn’t see that reporter when I was there?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  09:29 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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To Run Or Not To Run

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Progression to the Typical


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